COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Aug. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Spirit of Aggieland is prevalent in College Station, but back in 2001 it took an ocean-sized leap, traveling nearly 8,500 miles to Kampala, Uganda, and entered the dreams of a future Texas A&M University graduate named Mark Musumba. Today, Musumba, 32, graduated from Texas A&M with his third degree, a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, and has begun a new chapter in his life as a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University.
The long road to Musumba's doctorate began while his younger brother, Andrew Kalinda, was attending Blinn College. After two years at Uganda's Makerere University, at the age of 21, Musumba had a choice to make: finish his degree plan at home or take a swan-dive into the unknown that was America. With Uganda's high rate of unemployment, Musumba says many people there earn college degrees, but struggle to find jobs.
"America is the best country there is and I couldn't wait to see it," says Musumba. "Not everyone gets a chance to go and I couldn't miss such an opportunity."
Musumba's arrival in College Station was fraught with uncertainty. "Besides my brother, I didn't know anyone," he remembers. "My parents said we'll give you enough money to come and after that, you're on your own."
Musumba admits he may have romanticized some notions about who gets financial aid and how quickly the money comes. So when the financial aid he'd counted on fell through, and his tourist Visa prohibited him both from working and applying to Texas A&M, Musumba began to fear he'd soon be homeless and hungry. He'd been staying in an apartment with his brother and a roommate, but couldn't pay his fair share of the rent.
"I began to hate life, and I wondered why I had come to the United States," he recalls.
Looking for a hot meal one day, Musumba went to United Campus Ministries, where he met the pastor of First Christian Church in Bryan, Rob Chandler. "When I came to see him, he became concerned and he took a keen interest in me," says Musumba. Chandler took the young man under his wing and amazingly, into his home, and along with Texas A&M Professor Emeritus John Hoyle, now retired, worked as a sponsor for Musumba and did all they could to help him set and achieve his goals.
"This young man showed up with nothing; he was adrift," remembers Hoyle. "Rob and I got to know him a little bit. He was kind of a frail-looking kid, but full of life and full of great stories and he came from a great family."
Musumba told Hoyle about the difficulties he'd been facing in trying to apply to Texas A&M. "So I took him over to Blinn College in Brenham and the president at the time was one of my former students," says Hoyle. "And they didn't want to take him because he didn't have the credentials. I told them this kid's going to make it, I guarantee it. Just let him in." And when they did, he lived up to Hoyle's promise; in the one semester spent at Blinn, Musumba earned a 4.0 GPA.
Meanwhile, his sponsors worked tirelessly to convince Immigration Services to convert Musumba's tourist Visa into a student Visa and it finally happened, so by the fall of 2002, he was accepted into Texas A&M as an undergraduate, pursuing a degree in economics.
Musumba says one of the most compelling reasons he wanted to attend Texas A&M was the Corps of Cadets. "I always had an interest in the military," he says. That interest, along with the benefit of financial aid and some not-so-subtle encouragement from his sponsors, led him to join the Corps, Company B-1.
He says the best part about the Corps was the brotherhood. "I never felt bored or lonely after joining the Corps. And every year, as the freshmen came, I got more and more friends."
Soon after, Musumba joined Rudder's Rangers, an elite company within the Corps designed to provide highly motivated cadets an opportunity to develop leadership through intense field training.
As he excelled as a student and cadet, Musumba continued to be touched by the Spirit of Aggieland: First Christian church-member Jim Carter bought him his Aggie ring and the congregation raised funds to buy his senior boots.
After graduation, Musumba stayed to pursue his graduate degrees and by 2012, he'd earned both a Master's and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. This summer, he's taken all he's learned at Texas A&M to New York City, for post-doctoral research at The Earth Institute at Columbia University. He says while he's there, he'll focus on improving agricultural production, human well-being, and environmental quality in developing countries. He hopes to become a professor at Columbia.
Hoyle has high hopes for Musumba's move to New York and boasts about his accomplishments as if he were a son. "He's going to fit in because people just love him," Hoyle says. "The church fell in love with him and he fell in love with us. He became part of our family – dinner, holidays, he was there."
"I'm too happy," says Musumba about this next chapter, but laments he will miss many aspects of Aggieland. "I will miss my church and friends the most." And as a diehard Aggie fan, he says he'll be longing for fall football at Kyle Field. "For my first six years, I only missed two home games." Musumba says he plans on returning to College Station to watch some of the Aggie football team's inaugural SEC games.
Looking back on his decision to leave Uganda, Musumba says, "I took a big risk, and luckily it worked out."
He points to Ecclesiastes 9:11, a verse which holds profound meaning for him: "'The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.'
"To me this means everyone has a chance in life, it all depends on how you use it," says Musumba. "I waited for a chance to come my way and when it did, I took it and did everything I could with it."